14 Taliban Fighters, Militants Killed in Afghan Clashes

Afghan troops clashed Thursday with a group of militants close to the border with Pakistan, killing eight insurgents and wounding two others, a defense ministry spokesman said.

Separately, U.S. coalition troops killed six Taliban fighters during a raid on militants blamed for roadside bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan, a coalition statement said.

The fighting comes at a time when the U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are trying to turn the tide against the Taliban-led violence, which was at an all-time high in 2008 with insurgent attacks up 30 percent from the year before.

The U.S. has some 33,000 troops in the country, but President Barack Obama is expected to send up to 30,000 more forces this year as his administration shifts its focus from the war in Iraq to Afghanistan.

Afghan troops killed eight militants and wounded two others in eastern Khost province early Thursday, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the defense ministry.

The soldiers were dropped in to the area by helicopter, sparking fighting that lasted hours, Azimi said. The dead included foreigners, but Azimi did not disclose their nationalities.

Afghan and Western officials say many foreigners, including Pakistanis, Arabs, Chechens and other militants from Central Asia fight alongside Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents.

They have turned the lawless tribal region between Afghanistan and Pakistan into a sanctuary from which they launch attacks in both countries.

In southern Zabul province, meanwhile, the U.S. coalition troops hunted Wednesday for a Taliban commander involved in a roadside-bomb network and the movement of foreign fighters, a coalition statement said.

The U.S. soldiers clashed with Taliban militants who opened fire on them from their compound after they refused to leave peacefully, it said. Five insurgents were killed in the gunbattle, and one militant who fired from behind large rocks died in an airstrike.

In the last three years Taliban fighters have taken control over wider areas of territory and continue to use roadside bombs in their campaign against Afghan and foreign troops. The number of such attacks rose 33 percent in 2008 compared to a year before, according to NATO.